Lessons from the Top: The Search for America's Best Business Leaders by Thomas J. Neff and James M. Citrin. Doubleday, 418 pages, $24.95.

Collections of leader profiles can sometimes result in a series of personality snapshots and pithy quotes but little in applicable lessons on leadership. Lessons from the Top is an exception.

Executive recruiters Neff and Citrin started off with a basic question: "What does it really take to lead an organization successfully in today's ever more competitive and fast-moving world economy?" The authors then developed an extensive quantitative and qualitative methodology, coupled with research from Gallup and others, that led to an authoritative list of the 50 best business leaders in America. The names ranged from the familiar, (Michael Eisner of Walt Disney, Jack Welch of General Electric) to the less familiar (Lou Noto of Mobil, Frank Raines of Fannie Mae and Bernie Ebbers of MCI WorldCom).

The authors then scheduled one-on-one interviews with each of the leaders to uncover the reasons for their leadership success. Separate chapters on each leader, mostly in their own words, form the heart of this book.

Here's one example.

Michael Armstrong, AT& T

If you need evidence that Armstrong's philosophy works, consider this: When he was named CEO, AT& T's stock was at $10 per share. One and one-half years later, the stock sold for $89 per share.

In his own words, Armstrong's five principles of leadership are:

* "You have to have the guts to make a decision." In business, you will never have all the information or be able to please everyone. The strength to cast the deciding vote is what makes a you a leader.

* "You have to have the courage to be competitive." If doing that requires drastic decisions, make them.

* "You need to understand, respect, and trust your management team." Lead by example to get your team in line with your vision. As CEO, you cannot be a remote image. You've got to be touched, heard, and believed.

* "You'd better lead by intelligence, instinct, judgment, and make decisions while there's still risk in them or you're not going to lead in your markets."

* "Commit to values as you generate both personal and organizational energy." When people have something to be enthusiastic about, they'll give you everything they've got, he says.

Lessons Learned

In the final chapter of the book, the authors lay out six core principles that -- to their surprise given the disparity of leadership styles and stories -- seemed to be shared by all successful leaders (see below).

This is an inspirational and informative addition to the ranks of leadership books.

The Right Things Right

As different as every leader's philosophy is, Neff and Citrin have identified common threads in their success. They are what they call the six core principles, or "Doing the Right Things Right."

1. Live with Integrity and Lead by Example.

2. Develop a Winning Strategy or Big Idea.

3. Build a Great Management Team.

4. Inspire Employees to Achieve Greatness.

5. Create a Flexible, Responsive Organization.

6. Tie It All Together with Reinforcing Management
and Compensation Systems.

Copyright 1999, Soundview Executive Book Summaries.